Whe Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has rejected “The Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Educational Institution Bill, 2019” otherwise known as Anti Sexual Harassment Bill insisting that the bill “violets all known global norms and legal principles,” “jurisprudentially weak” and of “no probative value and therefore, should “die naturally.”
ASUU in a position paper presented at the Public Hearing of the bill at the National Assembly on Monday by the National President of the Union, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi stated that the bill under review, aside from being against the universal principles of the law was also unclear, discriminatory against educators in the Nigerian university system and certainly against extant laws on University autonomy.
“As a global norm, universities and other tertiary institutions are established by law as autonomous bodies (Universities Autonomy Act No. 1, 2007). These institutions have their own laws regulating their affairs, including misconduct generally among both staff and students, with clearly articulated redress mechanisms. Any law or bill which seeks to supplant these laws violets the University autonomy. In this instance, the bill violets the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and ASUU Agreement of 2009, and as such rejected,” ASUU stated.
ASUU described the bill as an “ad hoc, ad hominem legislation” because it targets a distinct group and therefore runs foul of established norm of universality in law. Also, ASUU argued that the bill was not fair as it seeks to single out a certain group of people for punishment for a universal infraction. The Union wondered why the bill does not target the general work place.
The union also drew the attention of the National Assembly to a plethora of already existing laws which already took care of the provisions of the Anti Sexual Harassment bill. According to ASUU, such extant laws include, sections 218, 219, 220, 223, 224, 226 and 227 of the Criminal Code. Sections 275, 276,278, 281 and 282 of the Penal Code according to ASUU have also already taken care of what the new law seeks to establish.
Other existing laws which the ASUU cited on the issues the bill under review seeks to tackle include section 11 of the Child Rights Act, 2003, and section 15 of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act, 2015.
Lending their voices and support to the position of ASUU, two former National Presidents of the Union, Dr. Dipo Fashina and Prof. Nasir Isa Fagge insisted that the new bill was a red herring as it does not address the problems of tertiary education in Nigeria.
According to Fashina, “sexual harassment is not the problem of the Nigerian university system because there are already existing laws that have taken care of sexual harassment” he argued that the more “deeply” troubling problem of university system in Nigeria was the burgeoning fees being charged by the institutions and “once students cant’t pay the fees they move into the streets and can do anything.” This situation according to him negates the provision of the constitution which guarantees the right of every Nigerian to education. Fashina said that Nigerian universities of today was a “chaos” and a huge “joke” that cannot compete with its peers in other climes. He called on the National Assembly to enact laws that will reverse the decay in the Nigeria educational system, especially at the tertiary level.
On his own part, Prof Fagge argued that the bill under consideration was one-sided as it did not take cognizance of the fact that some lecturers could also be harassed by students. He argued that some single female and male lecturers could also be at the receiving end. Fagge also stated that part of the major problem in the Nigeria tertiary education system were the failure of some parents in showing good examples to their children and the undue emphasis Nigerians place on “paper qualification.” He posited that parents who go as far as procuring results for their children in order for the children to enroll in universities automatically impress it on the children to believe that anything can be done provided it led to obtaining the envisaged qualification.
ASUU therefore, concluded that:“The [anti sexual harassment] bill [was] dangerous and inimical to educational institutions, and to the interest of workers in tertiary institutions, as it contains several lose and ambiguous words/terms which could and would also be used to harass, intimidate, victimize and persecute its targets, especially lecturers through false accusations.
The union maintained that “While our union would not condone cases of sexual harassments in any form, we submit that the bill should fail because its unwarranted, jurisprudentially weak, a bundle of contradictions, would not pass core requirements of fairness and has no probative value.”